So in 2010 (it was his most popular blog post), Blaise outlined some differences in Social Media job descriptions.
His thinking is: there are internal and externally-facing types of jobs. And the internally-facing ones tend to look more like Community Management, e. g. what I do for Able2know. Those tasks include pulling spam, making peace among the users, interpreting site statistics and measurements, or scrubbing graffiti tags. Furthermore, they can also include adding correct tags to topics, and working on that site’s Help Desk. Those jobs tend to be called Community Manager, Head of Online Community, etc. Content Strategist and Content Curator seem to fit into this bucket as well. However, those other jobs can be more about promoting content rather than serving those who make it.
On the other hand, externally-facing jobs are more like what I did for Neuron Robotics. Because in that role, I attended events on behalf of the company, conducted product demonstrations, did outreach and sales, communicated with potential customers, etc. Hence those jobs tend to have words like Marketing or Marketer in their titles.
Blogging seems to be either external or internal. However, it all begs the question, though: what happens when you’ve got skills in both areas? Must you choose one or the other? See, this is what’s been bothering me, all along, about the whole Social Media career-changing experience. There seems to be a requirement that a person drop themselves into one pigeonhole or another.
And I say, why can’t I be in both?
So for more information, check out Blaise’s February 8, 2010 blog entry and make please help to make it even more popular. Kudos to him!
I’ve been a Community Manager for over a decade but don’t believe I have seen a better outline of our roles and sub-roles than this graphic –
I have been in all of these roles, at one time or another. Because I am a volunteer and Able2Know is a large generalized Q & A website, some of my experience has been slightly different.
A lot of community members might not realize when they do this. Sometimes it can feel as if you’re the punching bag. But you can’t punch back. Whenever I’ve been involved in an altercation online (usually by being dragged into one; I tend not to instigate), I inevitably recuse myself and ask that other Moderators and Administrators handle what is to be done.
I’ve never been more in tune with this role than after a member’s death. I’ve written maybe a dozen online obituaries. It’s an odd thing to put together something of the life of a person who used a screen name and an avatar. Those moments require taking the temperature of a community, and understanding whether the remembrance should be a rollicking, funny wake, or posted music and poetry, or something else.
I haven’t been a gardener since the site was rather young. When there are few members and topics, the Community Manager is often tasked with creating content. That has to stop at some point, as the community needs to take over and make a far larger percentage of the content. With a brand-related community, it is different. The brand will likely retain far more of the content creation role.
These days, I prune or shape a lot more than I create. That leads me to the Cheerleader role.
There’s nothing like being enthusiastic about a new feature and having the membership scream bloody murder because they don’t like the change. And then, a year later, seeing the community embrace that very same change. Cheerleaders, at times, are treated like Piñatas.
We have a Help Desk, and I regularly route more of the developmental work elsewhere. Still, this is a role that could conceivably be done by others.
While I am a Mediavore as a matter of personal characteristics and behaviors, this role hasn’t exactly been necessary at Able2Know. I have used this knowledge and familiarity, though, to bring interesting social media information to the site. Plus I answer a lot of the Facebook and Twitter questions.
This is another area less important for a volunteer position at a shoestring site. More likely, I am checking Facebook, etc. to see if users are disgruntled, or leaving entirely. For me, this role has a lot in common with the Sponge.
Oh, how I despise this role. But it’s got to be done every single day. These tasks are often delegated to newer volunteer Community Manager/Moderators, mainly because it’s a large and daunting task. It’s also to get their feet wet and give them an idea of how we do things.
I keep some rough stats, as the site is run on a shoestring. My background is in data analysis; I know the value of objective, measurable, quantitative information. In particular, objective data is usually important at budget time. Management needs to know the community is working, and is more than a few people chatting. Data and its analysis can sometimes mean the difference between a project with a budget that’s continued, and one which loses its budget and dies on the vine.
For this role (again, keep in mind, I’m a volunteer, and the site is run with a rather low budget), it’s more of the times when I’ve answered questions at in-person gatherings or helped someone get back onto the site when their only means of communicating with me is via Facebook wall posts or Twitter or the like. But this doesn’t happen too often.
The Most Important Role of a Community Manager is ….
Empathetic Sponge, with a dash of Sculptor.
The role of a Community Manager, I believe, is mainly as a listener, and all three of these sub-roles are mainly centered around listening. What are people saying? How can we understand the community? And how does what we’re hearing convert into metrics?
Allow me to add a new role, perhaps one that melds these three – the Windmill. That is, a means of harnessing the wind. The Community Manager needs to know which way the wind blows, and how to measure it, and how to use it to power the community.
As John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island.”
On the internet, there seems to be a similar but not identical truth – few people want to be an island. And so we create enclaves.
Some of our enclaves mimic those we see in the offline world – we associate with people we went to school with, or work with, or live near. We associate with the people who used to be in such relationships to us as well. And we associate with family, and sometimes even ex-family. We might expand our horizons a little, to also include members of the same political party, or age group, or others who enjoy the same activities as we do, like knitting, or the same entertainments, such as Browncoats.
This changes online with virtual groups, but maybe less than naysayers had originally thought. The online world is not restricted by geography. It’s not restricted by socioeconomic background, either, except that you need to have access to a computer. But you can often get that for free from a library, so you don’t necessarily have to own the hardware, although that does make it easier.
As McKenna, K.Y.A. (2002). Virtual group dynamics. Group Dynamics, 6(1), 116–127. [Library Link] says, “One of the most basic interpersonal needs is to ‘belong,’ to feel that one is a member of a group of others who share similar interests and goals, and to feel that one is a valued (and unique) member of that group ( Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Brewer, 1991). On the Internet, there are a wealth of venues where one can connect with like-minded others who share core interests and values and thus fulfill this important need. Chat rooms, newsgroups, electronic mailing lists, message boards, interactive games, and major interactive Web sites provide individuals with the opportunity to join existing online groups or to create their own.”
This need for a sense of belonging appears to drive a lot of members of virtual groups. There is also a need to break the internet down into more manageable bite-sized chunks. With trillions of webpages online (estimated, See: http://www.factshunt.com/2014/01/total-number-of-websites-size-of.html), no one user can experience it all, not even if that person makes an executive decision to only look at sites written in Norwegian, or uploaded after June 15, 2012, etc. Therefore, users look for something smaller and easier to take. Otherwise, the scale is unfathomable.
Clay Shirky’s Take
As Clay Shirky says, in Shirky, C. (2003, July 1). A group is its own worst enemy. Networks, Economics, and Culture Mailing List. [Link], “You have to find some way to protect your own users from scale. This doesn’t mean the scale of the whole system can’t grow. But you can’t try to make the system large by taking individual conversations and blowing them up like a balloon; human interaction, many to many interaction, doesn’t blow up like a balloon. It either dissipates, or turns into broadcast, or collapses. So plan for dealing with scale in advance, because it’s going to happen anyway.”
Communities that become too large tend to suffer, as the number of conversations grows faster than the number of users (e. g. for three users, there are four possible conversations; user A + user B, user B + user C, user A + user C, and all three users). Users like to feel that they belong, and that a place can be understood.
At the same time, they also want to feel safe. In Dibbell, J. (1998). A rape in cyberspace (Or tiny society, and how to make one). In My tiny life (pp. 11–30). New York: Henry Holt and Company. [Link | Alternate Link], Julian Dibbell argues that a behavior whereby one user’s account was able to control another user’s account (against the second account holder’s will) was practically a cyber-rape. The site’s lack of moderation seems almost laughable today, that the designers and administrators of a large online community would leave it to its own devices with zero supervision. After all, even the most libertarian or even anarchic of users usually wants the spam to go away quickly.
Beyond basic safety, they often want positive support, too. As Wellman, B., & Gulia, M. (1999). Net-surfers don’t ride alone: Virtual communities as communities. Networks in the global village: Life in contemporary communities (pp. 331–366). New York: Westview Press. [PDF] say, “Even when online groups are not designed to be supportive, they often are.” (Page 7)
Finally, the use of internet communities is sometimes for even greater closeness than what the members can get in person, perhaps analogous to telling your troubles to a stranger in an airport bar who you will never see again.
As McKenna, (Ibid.) says, “The relative anonymity of the Internet allows individuals to take greater risks in making disclosures to Internet friends than they would to someone they know in more traditional, face-to-face settings (McKenna & Bargh, 1998; McKenna et al., 2002). Users are more likely to express how they truly feel and think (Spears & Lea, 1994) when interacting on the Internet, and when identity salience of the group is high, those who interact under conditions of anonymity are more likely than their nonymous, face-to-face counterparts to conform to group norms (e.g., Postmes, Spears, & Lea, 1999).”
When users mourn the deaths or departures of people they have never met in person, when they hug and kiss relative strangers when they finally do meet, and when they can provide comfort to the lonely online as a function of kindness and not for a quid pro quo, that’s when users move from a Gesellschaft to a Gemeinschaft, or from a rough collection to a true community.